by Philip Orona
When game streaming services are discussed, we all tend to think of Steam, Apple Arcade, Epic, PS Now and Xbox Game Pass. What I don’t hear in the discussions is Antstream Arcade. Founded in 2013, Antstream Arcade streams retro and arcade games online via their client which is available on Mac, Windows, Android, Atari VCS(!) and Linux. Android Availability implies availability on another platform, Chrome OS. I installed the Antstream client on my Chromebook to see what Antstream Arcade offers and to give me another option for gaming on my little Google box.
Signing up is easy and free (this is not a paid promotion by the way). I went to the website, signed up and downloaded the client. There is a premium subscription that does away with advertising but I can deal with some pop ups here and there.
Once the client was installed, I had access to the library and whoa, there are a lot of games to choose from.
This is retrogaming at its finest. The large library, wide platform availability and ease of use makes this streaming service a very valid alternative to emulation (legal or otherwise), especially for arcade classics. I tried a couple of arcade labeled games such as Fatal Fury, Mortal Kombat and Gauntlet. These are indeed arcade accurate from what I remember. The music, graphics and physics of it all feel exactly the way they did some 25 to 30 years ago. The games themselves do not install, they are all hosted by Antstream and beamed to your machine in the client.
The way back machine goes further into extreme retro territory. Titles like Pac Man, Galaga, Joust and Elevator action just to name a few are here in their original glory. The retro library is extended to SNES, Atari, Neo Geo, Commodore 64 and Amiga titles.
What’s new and unique here? Leaderboards for each game gives you something to shoot for. Do you wanna be “the guy” for a particular game? Now you can try and prove it. Also, arcade titles give you the option to pause and save states! Yes! Just like emulation! Controls are typically adaptable to your device. The service offers touch screen controls if you are playing on your phone or gamepad and keyboard compatibility if you are playing on a computer of some sort. My Xbox One controller connected via USB to my Chrome book works just fine with the service. There is optional co-op for some titles adding another layer of playability. For arcade titles, pressing start on my controller is like dropping another quarter into the machine. I have not seen a limit on how many you can drop as of yet. I must have popped in the equivalent of about 50 dollars while playing Gauntlet.
I also have a chance to check out a plethora of games I have never seen before, especially for systems I have never owned. For example, Astaroth: Angel of Death was an interesting title on the Amiga system that grabbed my attention. It is a very difficult and lengthy platformer that relies heavily on memorization of patterns and guess work. Its art style is heavily inspired by HR Giger (of Aliens fame) which is quite modern-art creepy and features a rich (for the time) synth soundtrack.
The company is based in London but I imagine that they have servers in multiple countries. The connection was decent during my playtime. I did have the occasional lag from just about every title I have played no matter how old or new and since this is strictly streaming online, you are at the mercy of your internet connection. The touch controls work okay but I highly recommend a controller for most games. Some games on Amiga (Astaroth) and C64 games won’t work with a gamepad, relegating you to a keyboard, so I would avoid those on mobile devices as well.
Wrapping up, I would highly recommend this streaming service, especially for the price of “Free with advertisements”. With the service being available for Atari VCS, it is a boon for early adopters of the platform. I am surprised that services like Xbox and PSnow have not picked it up, particularly since a majority of the games are not available from Microsoft or Sony themselves. Antstream is THE alternative to emulation for retro platforms and arcade and I can’t praise it enough. It isn’t perfect but for me, free gaming is always a win.
Free retro games
Prone to network lag
Controller support varies from game to game